26 Jan 2014

Sixth sense: young people and immigration

“We shouldn’t say you’re not allowed in, but then send all our old-age pensioners to Spain.” Channel 4 News spoke to sixth form students for their rarely heard take on the immigration debate.

Immigration. It is a topic that is being discussed in pubs and offices across the land. But what about in the class rooms and the canteens?

Channel 4 News went to sixth forms across the UK – in Boston Spa, Yorkshire, Birmingham, and Bridgend, Wales – to find out what young people think about one of the year’s hottest topics.

It’s an issue which should be close to their hearts, not least because immigration has often been used as a stick to beat young people with – albeit from different sides. Just last week, EU politician Viviane Reding said the UK government’s anti-immigration rhetoric was destroying their future.

Last year, even the prime minister insinuated that immigrants were taking jobs that young people either cannot – or even will not – do. His comments followed those of Jamie Oliver, who said that this generation is “wet”, unable to work long hours, and shouldn’t complain about immigration when it is necessary to keep some businesses afloat.

Watch the debates
Spain, learning and takeaways: what students at Boston Spa School Sixth Form, Yorkshire thought
Propaganda, xenophobia and tolerance: what students at Sandwell College, Birmingham thought
Global citizens, benefits, and saving lives: what students at Bridgend College, Wales thought

But the young people interviewed by Channel 4 News think the idea that immigrants are stealing their jobs is simply “ill-informed”.

“If the government says it’s affecting our generation, we are representing our generation and we say it’s fine,” said Finola Daley-Dee.

Her classmate Poppy Wallace added: “We shouldn’t say, oh no you’re not allowed in our country then expect all of our old-age pensioners to go to Spain.”

If the government says it’s affecting our generation, we are representing our generation and we say it’s fine. Finola Daley-Dee, Boston Spa School Sixth Form

These teenagers from Boston Spa School Sixth Form in Yorkshire said that they feel their generation is more accepting than others because it is something they have grown up with.

“My granddad is from rural Yorkshire and even to this day he doesn’t eat foreign food or anything – just Yorkshire puddings and sausages,” said Lydia Houseman.

“They are maybe less open to it [immigration] and less aware of it. But because we’ve grown up in a society that is more multicultural and we experience it every day, it’s become more of a norm.”

Birmingham balance

Students in Birmingham – an area more affected by immigration, both past and present, than Yorkshire – agreed that immigration brought more to the UK than it took away, suggesting that much of the coverage they saw in the media was effectively “propaganda” against immigration, as one student – Lucy Daniels – put it.

“Immigration for me also means xenophobia,” added Asif Mohammed, from Sandwell College. “When you think of the word immigrants people think of busloads of people coming over here…but most immigration is legal and immigrants do help our country.

“We have a lot of doctors now that are second and third generation descendants of immigrants from Asia, particularly India and Pakistan, so we have to have a real debate with the facts and not just bigoted opinions.”

Simran Lagha said many people view immigration as a “burden” but added: “They don’t realise immigration makes Britain what it is today which is a diverse culture where everyone is appreciated and expected for who they are.”

But the teenagers said that there needed to be a balance.

What's life like for teenagers in 2014? Channel 4 News finds out...

“There’s a balance. When I finish my degree I’d like to leave England, for better opportunities and a better climate, so we have to keep in mind that as much as people are coming in others are going to leave,” Ebony-Jade Brown.

And Simran Lagha said perhaps there needed to be more thought about young people in Britain who can feel pushed out by immigration.

“Young people feel there’s not enough job opportunities for them here, so they actually feel pushed out of their own country, so in that perspective, immigration is a bad thing, but Britain needs to look into the topic more and see where the issues are occurring,” she said.

“To solve the situation, they could spread the immigrants out across Europe not just load everyone into Britain itself.”

‘Britain is full’

And while teenagers in Bridgend, in Wales, have perhaps experienced less immigration than those in Birmingham, some of them had a similar belief.

“It’s good to have an area where it’s all multi-cultural and everyone works together but I don’t think it works as well – for example, now, everybody knows Britain is full, it’s becoming over-populated,” Olivia Fowler from Bridgend College said.

Richard Jenkins added: “I respect the whole diversity and equality thing for immigrants, but when illegal foreign nationals come from countries and then take our jobs and get a better wage…or the benefits side. There’s loopholes around anything.”

Some of the other students disagreed, saying there was plenty of space left. They also said that people who are anti-immigration should bear in mind that some immigrants are desperate.

My brother had cancer. If it wasn’t for immigrant doctors, he wouldn’t be here. Ryan Holman, Bridgend College

“Taking care of people that live on this world and that are human, and not just are British and taking care of ourselves, I think that’s an important thing to do. There are people that are seeking asylum, they want to leave their country, and they come here illegally because they can’t get here otherwise,” said Ryan Holman.

“My brother had cancer. If it wasn’t for immigrant doctors, he wouldn’t be here.”

All of the students in Bridgend thought the UK was a prejudiced country.

“I think the changes in culture make some people uncomfortable, they like what they know, they like their tea and biscuits,” added Ryan Holman.

However they said that personal experience could change peoples’ minds.

“I think it takes something personal for you to actually realise that immigration is often a positive thing, because of the way it gets portrayed in the media,” said Olivia Fowler.

But students elsewhere were more hopeful – suggesting that it was actually inherent in Britain to be open to immigration.

“Think of how many things we have that are made by different cultures. To reject people from other countries would just be hypocritical,” said Boston Spa student Gheorghe Williams.

“We’re known for being diverse. That’s something that we’re proud of as Britain,” added Poppy Wallace.

Or as Lucy Bullimore, from Boston Spa, put it: “We’re a polite nation. We should stick to that.”